Thursday, September 29, 2011

Easy Freezable Beautiful... Tomato Sauce

Haha... nice title, right?

So this is a simple recipe for tomato sauce. I developed it using a combination of different sauce/soup/bisque recipes. Why is it great?

1. It's more flavorful (and much fresher and healthier) than pre-made tomato sauce.
2. It's flexible -- changing just a couple of things can give it a whole new purpose.
3. It freezes well and works great for dinner when you're too tired to make something.
4. It's a good way to use up tomatoes and/or onions and garlic if you were too excited by the pretty cheap tomatoes at the farmer's market (...what?)
5. You can easily change ingredients to your liking.

Here's what you do:


Tomato Bisque/Soup/Sauce

Ingredients:

Roma tomatoes (no seeds) (you can use regular tomatoes, too -- the important part is no seeds)

lots of butter
garlic
onion
a pinch of nutmeg
a bit of tomato paste (extrato de tomate in Portuguese)

Some tomato juice or sauce (juice is better for soup, sauce is better for, well, sauce. This isn't necessary and kind of defeats the purpose of making your own sauce, but it helps the sauce to thicken nicely. You can also just buy some canned/bagged crushed tomatoes, or use more tomato paste, or more fresh tomatoes. Tomato juice is hard to find in Brazil.)

fresh basil (you can use dried basil in a pinch -- get it, a pinch? har har) -- but fresh is better)

salt and pepper
chicken bullion (caldo de frango)

for soup: crème de leite/heavy cream
optional: shredded chicken and/or pasta


Instructions:
  1. Melt the butter.
  2. Heat the chopped garlic and onion in the butter.
  3. Add tomato products and spices (not the basil).
  4. Simmer until tomatoes are very soft.
  5. Blend almost all of the mixture with the fresh basil. (Leave a little of the mixture in the pot. You'll add the blended mix back in and mix it all together again. This helps to thicken the sauce. It's optional, if you prefer a less chunky sauce.)
  6. Remix the blended and unblended parts together and reheat.
  7. For soup, add crème de leite.

    I know my recipe seems kind of confusing/disjointed/incomplete, but that's the point -- it's the base of a recipe. It's meant to give you some ideas, and hopefully to inspire you to make your own tomato sauce. It's really tasty.

Martha Stewart Cookbook

So I haven't been putting up many recipes lately because EVERYTHING I've been cooking has been coming out of this wonderful book:



It's called "Everyday Food: Great Food Fast" and it's from Martha Stewart Living. If you're starting out with cooking and don't have a lot of intuition in the kitchen, and if you're trying to cook simple, healthy stuff for yourself and your family, then this book is a perfect investment. I bought it at a Saraiva bookstore in the Rio Sul Mall in Rio de Janeiro, so it's here in Brazil! It was 50 reais, which is a steep markup from its 12-dollar price (5 bucks used!) in the US, but it's still worth every penny (or centavo, as it were). Not only does it have delicious, doable recipes (no crazy, hard-to-find ingredients or advanced cooking methods), it also comes with a guide to cooking the basics at the back of the book, with tips on how to fry rice, or roast a chicken, or make marinades, stuff like that (you know, stuff your mom was supposed to teach you but may not have known herself).

I looked into a few Rachel Ray books, but a lot of the recipes were (a) really unhealthy; (b) heavy on the American ingredients (like cheddar, asparagus, and turkey); or not quite meals (things that couldn't stand alone). Her books are popular, but not what I was looking for.

I also researched some of the new fresh food movement cookbooks, stuff from foodie authors like Mark Bittman who are focusing on going organic and eating more vegetables and things like that, but a lot of the recipes were so unfamiliar and included really unique ingredients that I wouldn't even know how to find in the US, let alone in Brazil (gorp with seaweed and walnuts? What?!?!).

So this Martha Stewart cookbook has revolutionized our kitchen, our diets, and our routine. I know that sounds dramatic, but almost every recipe looks tasty and, more importantly, accessible. I started out making a few things and every one was successful, and it built up my confidence to keep trying stuff out. We hardly eat out at all anymore. We've made 15 of the recipes! Here are some pictures of my successes:

Mediterranean Chicken Stew with Polenta, page 287
(it teaches you how to make polenta on page 360, and even Alexandre admitted that it was better than his traditional Brazilian-Italian version)

Garlic-Roasted Chicken Breasts with Broccoli, page 275
 Vegetarian Lentil-Walnut Burgers, page 153
(this pic is actually from dear Lindsey's house, because we made it together.  But then Alexandre and I made it, and it's his favorite from the book so far.)

Salmon and Lentils, page 228
(my first time cooking fish! I just used the George Foreman -- nothing fancy)


Another great thing about these recipes is that they're easy to modify -- I tend to add more vegetables to the recipes to increase the vegetable:meat ratio. The book will also suggest specific types of a given vegetable, like broccoli rabe (typical broccoli in Brazil) rather than what Americans consider typical broccoli (called "broccoli ninja" in Brazil), but these ingredients are rarely set in stone. Basically, it's not important if you buy the broccoli rabe vs. the traditional broccoli, or if you buy green olives instead of red ones, things like that.

OK? Is that enough raving? Have I convinced you to buy the book yet?

Are there any cookbooks that you swear by?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Peanut Butter and Peanut Sauce

OK guys, thanks to Lindsey, we can all stop wishing that we had peanut butter here in Brazil. Now you can make your own! The recipe is so easy, it's healthier and cheaper than the store-bought stuff with all the preservatives, and you have more control over it, so you can get exactly the flavor that you want! I don't think I'll ever go back to Jiff, even if we move back to the US one day.

Lindsey and I made this peanut butter recipe together when I went to visit her. To show you just how easy it is, I'm going to type up the short version (hopefully to inspire you). Then, to give you visual inspiration, I'll put a step-by-step version with pictures below.  After that, I've even found a Thai peanut sauce recipe that you can make using your own homemade peanut butter! Look at you go!

So do you want the recipe for homemade peanut butter? Here it is:


Mix ground peanuts, canola oil, sugar, and salt in a blender, adding more and more of each ingredient, until you like it!

That's it!

OK, now with pictures:

Here's the bag of ground peanuts that we used:
The brand is Carreteiro, and you can ask at the store for "amendoim torrado e moído," which technically means toasted and ground peanuts. Yay!

Start off with 1/3 of the bag of the peanuts. We did this with a food processor. Lindsey can attest that a regular ol' blender is much better.

Add the sugar and the salt that you want. We suggest throwing in about 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of salt, to start. 

Then add in some canola oil. Start off with about 1/4 or 1/3 of a cup.

As you blend, add in more canola oil to get it moving. You may have to stop the blender and manually mix it a bit in the beginning.

Just keep on mixing and tasting, mixing and tasting, adding in more sugar, salt, peanuts, and oil. "Do that dance," as Jim would say, and watch the mixture turn from crunchy to smooth.
and eventually:
So if you like your peanut butter to be on the crunchy side, you can mix it less, or put a higher percentage of peanuts (vs. oil).

Store it in your fridge. Lindsey says it's good for about a week, but I'd probably try to get away with keeping it longer:



So now, with that amazing peanut butter, you can make some of your own Thai peanut sauce! Serve it with some chicken, rice, and snow peas, and you'll ALMOST feel like you're back in the US (or, ya know, in Thailand).

I got this recipe from a combination of peanut sauce recipes on allrecipes.com. There are quite a few variations, so if you're feeling inspired, you can click that link to check them out and come up with your own version. Some add honey; some add fish sauce (not gonna happen in Brazil), etc.

Here's the one that I thought was the most doable and with the most consistent ingredients (they are to taste, just like with the peanut butter):


Peanut Sauce
Ingredients:

1/2 cup peanut butter
brown sugar (some recipes called for white sugar, some, no sugar)
soy sauce
red pepper flakes or chili sauce or cayenne pepper
garlic
sesame seeds/green onions for topping
white rice vinegar
water

Instructions:

Blend everything except the water. Add water until it's the consistency you want. (Some recipes said not to put water, so it's your call! EDIT EDIT: Don't add water! It may be because of the oil in the homemade peanut butter, but the peanut sauce turns this icky color and takes on a completely different consistency.)

Hooray! I hope this made you as happy as it made me.